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Man Who Spent 72 Years in Iron Lung Passes Away

By Orgesta Tolaj


15 March 2024

Iron Lung Survivor

© Smiley N.

Paul Alexander, a man who overcame incredible odds after being paralyzed with polio at a young age, has sadly passed away at the age of 78. Despite relying on a machine to breathe for most of his life, this iron lung survivor managed to earn a law degree, write a book, and even gain a following on TikTok in his later years. His inspiring journey, from being known as ‘The Man in the Iron Lung,’ serves as a testament to the resilience and determination of the human spirit.

The Story of the Iron Lung Survivor

Paul Alexander contracted polio at the age of 6 in 1952, leading to paralysis and reliance on an iron lung for breathing. Despite this challenge, he pursued education, became a successful lawyer, and published books. He lived over 70 years in the iron lung. In 2022, Christopher Ulmer interviewed Alexander, sparking a GoFundMe campaign for his healthcare and housing needs.

Iron Lung Survivor
© WLBT News

Alexander shared his positive outlook on life, emphasizing his enjoyment of challenges. He also described a technique for surviving outside the iron lung by swallowing air intentionally. When asked about the fairness of his lifelong disability, Alexander responded that he never viewed it in terms of fairness. He saw it as a task given to him by God and embraced it positively.

Why Couldn’t His Iron Lung Be Replaced?

Despite advancements in medical technology, Paul Alexander’s damaged chest muscles prevented him from using portable ventilators, leaving him dependent on the iron lung for most of his life. Inside the machine, he relied on assistance from caregivers, such as Kathy Gaines, for basic tasks like eating and drinking. This information was highlighted in a 2018 profile by The Dallas Morning News and detailed in Alexander’s book.

His Internet Journey

Paul Alexander joined TikTok in January, sharing videos about his life with the help of others. Some addressed broader topics like practicing law from the iron lung, while others answered questions from his 330,000 followers about daily tasks, such as using a urinal. In one emotional video, Alexander discussed the loneliness and desperation of life inside the iron lung, highlighting rare moments of human touch. Despite the challenges, he offered advice to those struggling with anxiety and depression, encouraging them to hold on, as life will improve.

Iron Lung Survivor
© GoFundMe

The Death of the Iron Lung Survivor

Paul Alexander passed away at the age of 78, as announced by his brother on social media. He was one of the last individuals in the United States reliant on an iron lung. This is a machine that assists breathing by changing air pressure. In his final weeks, he gained attention on TikTok by sharing his experiences living with the outdated device. The exact cause of his death was unclear, but he had briefly battled COVID-19 in February, which posed significant challenges for his respiratory health.

We send the Alexander family our deepest condolences!

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Orgesta Tolaj

Your favorite introvert who is buzzing around the Hive like a busy bee!